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Jun 28, 2001

Big importers say their food is fresh

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On Tuesday News 5′s cameras followed health inspectors as they visited a number of Belize City groceries and confiscated damaged and stale dated products they said were a danger to consumers. Today Jose Sanchez spoke to a number of large wholesalers to find out where these suspect goods originate.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

Two of Belize’s largest importers, the Santiago Castillo Group and James Brodie and Company, say that they do not supply retailers with damaged goods.

Bill Musa, Managing Director, James Brodie and Company

“We are one of the largest wholesalers of food in addition to retailers. We have a policy on our invoice that we supply the customer with, it says any damages must be reported within seven days. We give them seven days to report any problem with the item that they buy from us. If within seven days we don’t hear from them it means that they receive the goods in good order and condition. In fact they sign to that effect that they received in good order and condition. And in addition to that we give them seven days to report any damages. After that we are not responsible.

We have a very strict policy in our stores, especially the retail stores, where the managers are told not to sell expired goods. Even though the manufacturers tell us when it says good before a certain date, it doesn’t mean the goods are not good for human consumption two to three months afterwards. But we stick to the policy, if it expires June, by the end of June it’s taken off our shelves.”

Santiago Castillo Jr, says that his company operates the same way.

Santiago Castillo, Managing Dir., Santiago Castillo Gr.

“We have a policy in place that when our goods are down to three months to expire, they are vastly reduced and offered to our wholesale customers who purchase these and sell them. We also have another policy in place where any customer can return any chilled, which is the perishable good to us two weeks before it expires. And for the non-perishable such as the can goods, we take it a month before it expires back from the customer simply because we would get a certification from the health authorities after they get destroyed and most of our companies reimburse us the cost of the goods.”

The Public Health Bureau plays a crucial role in keeping spoiled products off the shelves. While most of their work earlier this week showed the lack of cleanliness and numerous health violations by some stores, there are others that set a good example.

Jose Sanchez

“According to the health inspectors, one of the retailers with the best track records for having fresh groceries is Wellworth Store.”

Vinod Bhojwani, Proprietor, Wellworth Stores

“If anything is going to expire next month we remove from the shelf and try to get rid of quick. If something is selling slow and they have two to three months left, we reduce the price instead of dumping it. It is better to sell cheaper and keep our consumer happy. And always every time you come to our store you find everything intact and all our food products right now that you see in what the inspector have inspected, everything is 2002 to 2003 and 2004.”

All three businessmen believe that there are others who import stale goods mainly to get the most profit.

Bill Musa

“What we are faced with also is that we have the small importers, small supermarkets that go to Miami and buy closeouts and they get a very cheap price for closeouts. These closeouts may only have one or two months expiry date. They bring it to Belize, they put it on their shelves and it expires on them. A lot of the time, those same products we are exclusive agents for like Nestle, Hines, and Hunts. And many times we get the bad name because we are the agents for the products.”

Santiago Castillo

“They buy goods with closer expiration dates, but secondly the Reporter article recently published some invoices they present to customs and truthfully that speaks for itself. While they duty of a figure of twenty-six thousand, we’re paying duty on a figure of eighty-six thousand.”

Vinod Bhojwani

“Many people who bring or sometimes even the local importers they say listen, only one month left we will give you twenty percent cheaper, but we can’t buy that you see. If you buy fifteen cases, well I can’t get rid of that fifteen cases in a month and then what will happen, I will be a loser so first thing. What is good for me is good for my customer, and good for my children and that’s a very important thing we watch in business.”

Putting both large and small importers aside, it is the consumer’s responsibility to be careful when shopping. In many cases it is impossible to figure out the date or the number for the product’s data sheet, however Health Inspector John Bodden says there are other options.

John Bodden, Health Inspector

“So what they have to do then is basically take a good at the product, look at the condition of the box, shake it if necessary to feel the consistency of the product. I guess everybody would have an idea by now how a certain product that they have been eating would always feel. So they can go by that, again you could also look at the quality of the container. If it’s too rusty obviously it would not be a good product to buy and also if it has on the label. So these are some of the other choices you would have if there is not an expiry date on the product.”

Reporting for News 5, Jose Sanchez.

Sources in the food trade tell News 5 that wholesale closeouts on nearly out of date food items, particularly refrigerated goods, can be obtained in the southern United States at extremely low prices. Many of these discount food products are said to wind up in the coolers of Belizean grocery shops.

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